Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer is partnering with three of the county’s state delegates to propose three bills during the 2017 General Assembly that would allow the county to lower speed limits on certain roads to as low as 15 mph.
Riemer said Friday state law prevents the county in most cases from reducing speed limits on county roads below 25 mph; one of the bills would allow the county to reduce the limit to as low as 15 mph. Another bill would allow the county to reduce speed limits on roads without posted speed signs, which currently default to 30 mph.
The council member said the existing restrictions result in the state and county designing roads for the legal limit—upwards of 25 mph—even in urban areas and around schools.
“What we have is roads designed for higher speeds than they should be,” Riemer said. “We would like the ability to reduce them in school zones and other areas where it is appropriate.”
Riemer has partnered with Dels. David Moon (D-Takoma Park), Eric Luedtke (D-Burtonsville) and Marc Korman (D-Bethesda) to introduce three bills in the upcoming General Assembly that would enable the county to decide how low the speed limit should be on certain roads.
One bill would enable the county to lower the default low speed limit on county roads without signs from 30 mph to 20 mph, another would allow the county to lower speed limits on urban roads heavily used by pedestrians to 15 mph and a third would eliminate the requirement that the county conduct a traffic study to limit speed limits to 15 mph on county roads used by students to walk to school.
Moon said the bills are aimed at correcting speed limits in urbanizing parts of the county. He said the county’s land use and development patterns are changing at a faster rate than other parts of the state, which creates a need for different speed limit regulations than more rural or suburban jurisdictions might require.
“In places where we might be trying to build a more urban environment and we’re expecting more foot traffic, those places warrant a better look for pedestrian and bike safety,” Moon said.
Riemer said the bills are part of a Vision Zero effort to reduce vehicle collision deaths and serious injuries in the county to zero.
Vision Zero programs focus on road design as a way to reduce traffic deaths. The County Council approved a resolution in February to adopt Vision Zero that also asked that County Executive Ike Leggett’s office deliver a Vision Zero plan by Oct. 1. Riemer said the county administration has yet to deliver a plan to the council.
“I haven’t heard a peep,” Riemer said Friday. “That’s extremely disappointing.”
A county executive spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for an update on the Vision Zero plan Tuesday morning.
Moon said he couldn’t predict how the bills would fare in the state legislature, but said he hopes the legislation is treated as a local rather than a statewide issue. He noted that passing the bills wouldn’t change county speed limits, but would allow the county do so in the future.
“If it passes at the state level, we’ll have a fuller discussion at the county level before any changes are made,” Moon said.
The bills will be among the legislation that the county’s state delegation expects to discuss with residents at public hearings in Rockville on Dec. 5 and 7.
Since 2010 the county has averaged about 11 pedestrian deaths per year, with 13 in 2015. Montgomery County police reported its collision unit responded to 38 fatal collisions that resulted in 39 deaths in 2015 and 33 collisions in 2014 that resulted in 37 deaths.